What if the lyric ended like that? No “there” was there (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein’s take on Oakland). Even the first time we heard that song we knew “there” was coming and so we were free to revel in the tension of “standing”. We would be led home in due time. That’s the beauty of a dominant 7th chord. Examples abound. The writer takes us right up to the cliff, pushes us, but we float to earth.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was sitting with a group of songwriters and we were taking turns sharing our songs. I was in Charlottesville, Virginia for for my annual May ritual of collaboration and community with 15 lovely artists. Twice a day for a week, we sit together and, before we sing our song, we answer a question posed by that session’s leader (e.g., what is your favorite Beatles’ song? What was the first record you bought? ). The question for this session was “when was the first time you got goosebumps at a live show….the first time you were left in awe by a performer?”).
I pondered this as my turn approached and that’s when the dominant 7th came in. No resolution in sight. Why? Because the answers of my dear friends were gradually morphing from short answers to stories to epic dramas. This could only mean one thing: less time for me. Look, I have come a long way in my attitude about sharing my music. I no longer measure everyone’s lyrics against my own and wonder whose is better (I am some distance from the first time I went to a Children’s Music Network Conference and was dismayed to find that someone else had written a song about hugs and so I spent hours obsessing over how my Hugs song was better (it was…kidding…sort of)). But I still have an irrational feeling that there just isn’t room for me.
Why do I get like this? Of course there would be enough time! Do you know how many times in my life when someone said to me, “Oh sorry, Denny, I/we don’t have time to listen to you”? The answer is thirty-one but never outside of Iowa where no one listens to anyone unless it’s weather or cow related (now I see why my work-in-progress musical is call “Bovine Rain”). As I vamped on the 7th, I looked around and noticed someone who had long returned to the root chord: Pete.
I don’t know Pete well, having only been in his presence for three weeks in three years. I did not know him before the strokes. I am sure speech and motion came to him easily and now, at times, he has to search for words which are immediately available to most of us. But I do know this about him. He does not worry whether his songs measure up or if there is enough time or if someone has perhaps wandered off topic. He’s way way more present than I am.
When it is Pete’s turn, the most amazing thing happens. He sometimes reads the eloquent and elegant poems, such as, “I like being here. I really do. I like you. I like being here.” He looks straight at us. And sometimes he will sing a standard. I once saw him stand and sing “I’ve got you under my skin”. Sinatra himself could have not improved on the phrasing and tone. Music and words transform Pete. He’s an artist without artifice. If we are open, we are opened.
I drifted out of the dominant seventh and was at home. Didn’t matter what I sang. It was all good (I’ve never used that phrase; maybe lack of tension isn’t working for me).
And the first performance where I was awed? I was going to say Tom Waits at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. in 1975 but then I remembered an earlier time. Sproul Plaza at Berkeley in 1971. A guy around sixty who looked liked he’d be living in his dark suit for days. White shirt. Tie. Students walking by him and he just stood there alone singing, “Someone to Watch Over Me”.
I was awed. I was home. I love Berkeley Man. I love Pete. I love dominant 7th’s, when I know that they are passing.
Pete’s wife is Pamela Chappell who has several great CD’s of music she has written and has written extensively on life with Pete.
I just now thought of an earlier awe-inspiring live performance. I will leave that for another day.
It’s all good (Yikes).
Be sure to look for “Bovine Rain” on Kickstarter.